Envy Isn’t Something You Hold
Is self-harm a kind of language? If so, what are Ed’s arms telling us over the table?
Ed stretches his arms out over the table. “This thick one here was the first one. I overshot it.” I glance at Lars across the table as Ed speaks. “The skin split open and I saw all this red rise out.” Her lower lip hangs, puffy and peeled, under a glint of white teeth, just as when she writes. “The flesh went white along the edges, almost frothy, like frog’s skin.” His arms disappear under the table as if reaching for a surprise. “There’s some here, too.” He strokes his thighs in long sweeps, speaking rapidly and ecstatically, a force of joy as he says: “I did those after you cheated on me for the first time.” I wait for Lars’ reaction, for her face to suffer some change. I want her to see where this all began, my story, Ed’s skin, thirteen, Miami.
Each breath of cold air cuts my lungs. I have last night’s dinner on my mind when I leave the house before sunrise. The zipper of my jacket counts my steps on my chin. It’s March. It’s Ed’s second day here. He told me I didn’t have to take off from work. I only now realize he meant I should have.
The dog shit smeared on the sidewalk. The shards of mirror in dirt plots. My face on the unlit storefronts. Everything blue in the soft dark of the morning. I have grown to appreciate the emptiness of the streets at this hour, to anticipate this rare moment when I can pretend I’m not a gentrifier, that these blocks are mine alone. The idea of having Ed visit came on one of these mornings, commuting from Flatbush to Chelsea to open at the hotel cafe. I admit I’ve been lonely.
I still talk to Ed after all these years for a reason, I think, as I pull my sweater over and tuck it into a shelf behind the counter. A reason that might break me open if put into words.
Lars spends the day at home with Ed. In between customers, I sneak peeks at my phone to read her texts. She likes him. She says it’s nice letting her darkness rub up against Ed’s.
At the restaurant, Ed orders a dish of squid strips.
When the plate is set before Ed, I’m still thinking of his open skin, the white and red, the blood flowing out of him in long ropes in Miami, in a bathroom, on a cheap rug, on any given Sunday when his mother was out working from sunrise to sunset.
I forget that there are things we don’t know about each other, that we aren’t the same person anymore, that we never were. I’m so close to Lars that I sometimes forget that we’re not the same person, too. I keep making this mistake.
Ed explains to Lars, who was never a cutter, that if you slice vertically along the arm there isn’t any danger. Cutting, if you will, is a language.
What are Ed’s arms telling us over the table?
On the third day, there’s drinking, drinking, drinking –we’re drunk in a gay bar in the East Village. Eastern Bloc. All the guys wear jock straps. Hairy, tall, white men dancing in place, in one mass, a colony that from the outside appears motionless. Everyone looks like they know each other, I tell Ed at the edge of the crowd holding my coat to my chest. Like they come from the same place, a place we will never see, Ed. We take our clothes off and I’m thankful I put on cute underwear that morning, then upset when I notice the cuts on Ed’s thighs, the thin ones he had talked about over dinner, glowing pale pink in the neon bar light, almost as if freshly done. After I cheated on Ed for the first time, he slept with the same guy, the same guy whom we later found out was actually thirty-five. Now we laugh, we had a pedophile.
In between drinks, I check Grindr and Scruff underneath the bar ledge.
Ed calls me out: “There’s nothing more depressing than being on there. It’s like advertising your loneliness.”
I’m on there scrolling through the grid of men even as I’m with him. Waiting. Waiting for another man to hold my pain, which is Ed’s pain, Lars’ pain, my mother’s pain, so much pain.